A dramatic rescue operation brought eight people to safety after they were all trapped in a cable car dangling at least 900 feet (274 m) above a gorge in Pakistan.
One of the two cable lines carrying the car broke around 7 a.m. local time as six children were driving to school along with two adults in a remote mountainous area in Battagram, some 200 km north of Islamabad, officials said.
Most hung on late into the night with the car clinging to the lonely cable while residents below watched in concern and crowds gathered around TVs in offices, shops, restaurants and hospitals across Pakistan to hear news of the distressed pursue rescue mission.
Army commandos were called as three helicopters initially attempted to rescue those on board, with the effort hampered by strong winds and another rope about 9 meters (30 ft) above the ground.
Commandos initially managed to get food and medicine to those trapped on the cable car, which dozens are believed to use daily to cross the river to nearby schools, government offices and other businesses.
“The terrain below is difficult given the peaks and the river flowing below in the valley,” said Bilal Fiazi, a spokesman for the 1122 emergency services.
“Our situation is precarious, for heaven's sake do something,” Gulfaraz, a 20-year-old on the cable car, told local TV station Geo News over the phone, appealing to authorities to rescue her as soon as possible.
He said the children were between 10 and 15 years old and one passed out due to heat and fear. Local media reported that one of the children on board may have a heart condition.
But television footage apparently showed how a schoolchild was brought to safety on a belt shortly before nightfall. Another child is said to have been rescued before the helicopter operation was halted around 7 p.m. local time.
Despite conflicting reports that four children had been taken to safety at the time – and confusion over the ratio of children to adults on board – six people appear to have remained on board as the sun went down.
Floodlights were installed and an official said the military had sent cable crossing experts to the area, a remote location north of Islamabad, and would try to rescue the children one by one, transferring them one by one with a smaller cable car would. is called a trolley, along a cable.
Local residents said community members from surrounding areas who had experience in rescuing people in this way also arrived.
Video shared by an emergency services worker showed more than a dozen rescuers and locals lined up at the edge of the dark ravine and pulled on a cable until a boy, tied to it with a harness, safely reached the slope while saying, “God is great” exclaimed “.
“It's a slow and risky operation. A person has to tie himself with a rope and goes into a small one [trolley] and rescue them one by one,” Abdul Nasir Khan, a local resident, told Reuters.
Just before 11pm local time, Pakistan's interim Prime Minister Anwaar ul Haq Kakar announced that all children on board had been successfully rescued.
Moments later, his interior minister, Sarfraz Bugti, announced that the rescue mission had been successfully completed and expressed his appreciation “to our brave military personnel, administration and local people for their selflessness and determination in carrying out this complex operation”.
The rescue effort has paralyzed the country while the villagers have lined the valley slopes, seemingly intent on doing whatever they can to rescue those trapped above.
“An extremely difficult and complicated operation has been successfully completed by the Pakistani military,” the military said in a statement. “All stranded persons have been safely evacuated and taken to a safe location… Civilian administration and local people have also actively come forward to participate in this operation.”
Fears of rescue were likely heightened by the fact that this was not the first such incident in Pakistan.
Ten people died when a cable car installed by villagers in the popular mountain resort of Murree broke and plunged into a gorge several meters deep in 2017.
Mr Kakar, the acting prime minister, said he had “directed the authorities to carry out safety inspections of all these private chairlifts and ensure they are safe to operate and use”.
Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report